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Unexplained Leap In CO2 Levels 1215

Posted by Hemos
from the when-not-if? dept.
Cally writes "The Guardian is reporting that atmospheric CO2 concentrations have leapt by 4.5 ppm in the last two years. This raises the ugly possibility that the capacity of a large carbon sink (possibly the oceans) has been exceeded, and the worst-case scenario is that a tipping point has been reached and a runaway warming scenario is in progress. Quote from Dr. Piers Foster of Reading University: 'If this is a rate change, of course it will be very significant. It will be of enormous concern, because it will imply that all our global warming predictions for the next hundred years or so will have to be redone.'"
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Unexplained Leap In CO2 Levels

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  • More on sinks (Score:5, Informative)

    by erick99 (743982) <homerun@gmail.com> on Monday October 11, 2004 @08:32AM (#10491967)
    Carbon Sinks [umn.edu] are an important component of this discussion. From the article referenced in the first sentence:

    Buildup of atmospheric C02 is moderated by "sinks" on the earth's surface that use some C02 and store much of the carbon in living organisms, organic matter and carbonate minerals, says soil scientist H.H. Cheng. These carbon sinks include the oceans that cover more than 70 percent of the earth surface, forests and other vegetation covering the land, and organic matter in the soil.

    Interestingly, this article talks about soil as a possible source of CO2 buildup in the atmosphere, making the El Nino effect not always a good indicator of how much a rise or fall in atmospheric CO2 should be. Finally, here is article that that argues that rises in atmospheric CO2 are not a cause for alarm: PortlandTribune.com | Rise in CO2 levels is no cause for alarm [portlandtribune.com]

  • Re:More on sinks (Score:5, Informative)

    by moonbender (547943) <moonbender@NOSPAM.gmail.com> on Monday October 11, 2004 @08:45AM (#10492059)
    Finally, here is article that that argues that rises in atmospheric CO2 are not a cause for alarm: PortlandTribune.com | Rise in CO2 levels is no cause for alarm

    For what it's worth: The article - it's really just a brief op-ed piece - is fairly old (Fri, Jun 20, 2003), does not deal with the "leap" dealt with in the original article, and is written by the "environmental policy director at Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market think tank in Portland".
  • by Cat_Byte (621676) on Monday October 11, 2004 @08:48AM (#10492085) Journal
    tipping point has been reached and a runaway warming scenario is in progress

    I don't know about everywhere else, but this is the mildest summer we have ever had in my entire life in TX. I think it broke 100 degrees 3 times all summer. Personally I'm predicting a harsh winter if it follows the same trend.

  • The sky is falling (Score:3, Informative)

    by Kohath (38547) on Monday October 11, 2004 @08:51AM (#10492110)
    Everyone run for the hills.

    Here's a graph of temperature vs. Carbon-dioxide levels [junkscience.com]. See a relationship? Neither do I.

    It's from this article [junkscience.com].
  • by Mstrgeek (820200) on Monday October 11, 2004 @08:52AM (#10492120)
    I have taken some time to do some Google searches to provide some background information on the topic hope you find the links useful

    EPA : EPA Global Warming Site

    http://yosemite.epa.gov/oar/globalwarming.nsf/cont ent/index.html

    global warming group http://www.globalwarming.org/

    Cause & effect's of global warming http://www.nrdc.org/globalWarming/default.asp

  • by herrison (635331) on Monday October 11, 2004 @08:56AM (#10492144) Homepage
    General global warming need not mean that all places get warmer. Here in northern Europe, global warming could lead to a disruption of the north Atlantic drift/Gulf stream - which could lead to a much colder local environment.
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Monday October 11, 2004 @08:59AM (#10492164)
    All the coal and oil on the planet (about 3 teratons) is only about 8% of the carbon dissolved in the oceans. Which seems to imply two things: (1) We need to stir up the oceans a bit to get some of that CO2-poor deep water to the surface. (2) If we got desperate we could mine the waters for carbon.
  • by Graham Clark (11925) on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:06AM (#10492229)
    Some atmospheric measurements don't show warming, or even show cooling.

    However (see this [nasa.gov] Nasa page) Earth-surface and near-surface measurements do show warming. As we live on or very near the earth's surface, this is the imporant point to notice.

    The graphs you point at is somewhat selective in its choice of data.
  • Global Cooling? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:07AM (#10492239)
    I thought we were in a period of Global Cooling?! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_cooling [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lars T. (470328) <Lars.Traeger@goA ... l.com minus poet> on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:15AM (#10492295) Journal
    Having 3 active volcanoes now raised the CO2 levels the last 2 years. Yeah. And even though volcanoes produce large (even lethal) amounts of CO2 localy [usgs.gov], they are dwarved by men-made sources world wide.
    Scientists have calculated that volcanoes emit between about 130-230 million tonnes (145-255 million tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (Gerlach, 1999, 1992). This estimate includes both subaerial and submarine volcanoes, about in equal amounts. Emissions of CO2 by human activities, including fossil fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring, amount to about 22 billion tonnes per year (24 billion tons). Human activities release more than 150 times the amount of CO2 emitted by volcanoes--the equivalent of nearly 17,000 additional volcanoes like Kilauea (Kilauea emits about 13.2 million tonnes/year)!
  • by julesh (229690) on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:20AM (#10492333)
    The readings on this page only go back 1000 - 2000 years. They are probably based on statistics gathered for a report by Michael Mann. There are systematic statistical errors in this report, as was detailed last year in a paper that examined his methodology and alternative sources of data. Correction of these errors shows a gradual decline starting from substantially higher figures at the start of the period, then a sudden upturn to about 50% of the difference between top and bottom (unfortunately I can't find the study in question ATM).

    Also, samples from much earlier periods are frequently a _lot_ higher than present day figures. I recall hearing about a period where scientists had trouble explaining how the CO2 levels got so high.
  • Its easy (Score:2, Informative)

    by grishknash (118043) on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:21AM (#10492341)
    The answer is simple, its called the precautionary principle. If you don't know what it will do then you better not mess it up in the first place. Too late!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:21AM (#10492348)
    At best this news is a cause for increased concern and attention. The idea that because we don't fully understand the situation we should do nothing and simply ignore it is absurd.

    There is very strong evidence that since the industrial revolution we have significantly increased CO2 input into the ecosystem while at the same time reducing the capacity for CO2 to be locked away as carbon in the world's forests. Now whether or not this has yet had an effect on global temperatures, or will, is still a question to be discussed, although I personally think it almost certainly has.

    Someone told me once that if the size of the average car in America were the same as the size of the average car in Europe, America would remove it's entire requirement for Saudi Arabian oil. Does anyone know if that's true?
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zaiff Urgulbunger (591514) on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:23AM (#10492353)
    Given that on the one hand we don't fully understand the effects of more CO2 in the atmos. whilst on the other hand we know that (a). the planet operated fine before without us pumping out such ammounts of CO2 and (b). we know there is a likely a tipping point but we don't know where it is, *then* is it not prudent to perhaps look at cutting CO2 emitions?

    I agree that waving arms around about impending doom isn't massively useful and that more research is needed given the huge number of unknowns, but I really think that trading the risks (passing tipping point, really really screwing the atmos., causing huge changes, inevitable famine on such a scale never seen likely consequent wars over resources... MAYBE versus not doing anything bar more research and therefore saving money/increasing profit (primarily for the benefit of western nations)) than it seems wise to try to reduce CO2 emitions!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:28AM (#10492397)
    Steven J. Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and a commentator on Fox News.

    He has spent his life as a lobbyist for major corporations and trade organisations which have poisioning or polluting problems. He originally ran NEPI (National Environmental Policy Institute) which was founded by Republican Rep Don Ritter (who tried to get tobacco industry funding) using oil and gas industry funding. NEPI was dedicated to transforming both the EPA and the FDA, and challenging the cost of Superfund toxic cleanups by these large corporations.

    NEPI was also associated with the AQSC (Air Quality Standards Coalition) which was devoted to emasculating Clean Air laws. This organisation took up the cry of "we need sound science" from the chemical industry as a way to counter claims of pollution -- and Milloy became involved in what became known as the "sound-science" movement. Its most effective ploy was to label science not beneficial to the large funding corporations as "junk" -- and Milloy was one of its most effective lobbyists because he wrote well, and used humour (PJ O'Rourke was another -- but better!)

    He joined Philip Morris's specialist-science/PR company APCO & Associates in 1992, working behind the scenes on a business venture known as "Issues Watch". By this time, APCO had been taken over and become a part of the world-wide Grey Marketing organisation, and so Milloy was able to use the international organisation as a feed source for services to corporations who had international problems.

    Issues Watch bulletins were only given out to paying customers, so Milloy started for APCO the "Junkscience.com" web site, which gave him an outlet to attack health and environmental activists, and scientists who published findings not supportive of his client's businesses. Like most good PR it mixes some good, general criticism of science and science-reporting, with some outright distorted and manipulative pieces.

    The Junkscience web site was supposedly run by a pseudo-grassroots organisation called TASSC (The Advancement for Sound Science Coalition), which initially paid ex-Governor Curruthers of New Mexico as a front. Milloy actually ran it from the back-room, and issued the press releases. Then when Curruthers resigned, Milloy started to call himself "Director" (Bonner Cohen - another of the same ilk also working for APCO - became "President")

    Initially all of this was funded by Philip Morris, as part of their contributions to the distortion of tobacco science, but later they widened out the focus and introduced even more funding by establishing a coalition -- with energy, pharmaceutical, chemical companies. TASSC's funders include 3M, Amoco, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General Motors, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lorillard Tobacco, Louisiana Chemical Association,National Pest Control Association, Occidental Petroleum, Philip Morris Companies, Procter & Gamble, Santa Fe Pacific Gold, and W.R. Grace, the asbestos and pesticide manufacturers.

    TASSC was then exposed publicly as a fraud. And so Milloy established the "Citizens for the Integrity of Science" to take over the running of the Junkscience.com web site.

    http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Steve n_J._Milloy [disinfopedia.org]

    amazing what you find on the internets
  • by Lars T. (470328) <Lars.Traeger@goA ... l.com minus poet> on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:31AM (#10492422) Journal
    Well, at least that graph shows that there is global warming.
  • by julesh (229690) on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:34AM (#10492457)
    This data seems to disagree with yours [daviesand.com].

    Which do you believe?
  • by mik (10986) * on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:37AM (#10492481)
    Let's be clear on this point: "global warming", if happening, does not say anything at all about the temperature at any given point on the globe. It says that there is an increase in the global average temperature. This sort of change would imply an increase (perhaps dramatic) in the chaos of the weather system: e.g. more and larger hurricanes and tornados, larger swings in temperature from historical data, chaotic deviation from trend lines, etc. Global rise in temperature might also be expected to increase ice cap melting rates, leading to higher water levels and proportionally lower salt content.

    The typical example is that you've got a water wheel where each bucket has a hole that leaks water at a fixed rate. Now you allow water to flow into the system - the more water, the faster the wheel goes... up to a point. when the "tipping point" is reached, the system goes haywire, speeding up, slowing down, even reversing direction. Here's a little demo [mit.edu]

    I'm not saying that this is what is happening here, just that "but we had a mild summer this year" is missing the point.

  • by Prototerm (762512) on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:47AM (#10492573)
    I cannot find the link at this time, but the scientists who came up with the whole Global Warming research deliberately ignored years in the middle ages where the average temperature in Europe was a lot higher than it is today. Apparently, that data did not fit their theory, so they ignored it.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that one of the more recent ice ages was caused by arctic ice melting into the Atlantic, the resulting rush of fresh water causing the warm waters of the Gulf Stream to sink. The glaciers started to move in after only 70 years (a short time in Geological terms).

    So, it's possible that this whole warmup is natural, and we're actually heading for an ice age. Freeze or Broil, take you pick, everyone.

    I wouldn't worry, though, we'll all be killed in the Nuclear War soon, anyway.
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:2, Informative)

    by sarabob (544622) on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:50AM (#10492594)
    But from that chart, the annual increase has consistently been around 1-2ppm for the last 50 years. A 4ppm increase in the annual figure could therefore be argued to be statistically significant.
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:4, Informative)

    by Fred_A (10934) <fred@@@fredshome...org> on Monday October 11, 2004 @10:01AM (#10492680) Homepage
    Actually quite a few Americans are concerned, most of them live in the southern hemisphere though.

    But most of the activity indeed seems to be centered in Europe. Russia recently joined the Kyoto treaty so that it would look good on paper. China seems moderately active but they probably don't have the means to do much yet. And the US policy is to do nothing that will harm the bottom line. As usual.
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:5, Informative)

    by stevelinton (4044) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Monday October 11, 2004 @10:14AM (#10492790) Homepage
    First the meta point. You can find "qualified scientists" taking both sides of practically any question you can think of. This is good, from an academic freedom point of view, and because, just occasionally, some idea will slowly creep in from "a silly point of view held by a few awkward cranks that no one listens to" to eventually become mainstream (although it is important to remember that 99+% of such ideas will NOT do this). It is precisely to ensure this breadth of viewpoints that academics have tenure, so that they cannot be fired just because their views are unpopular.

    The down side of this breadth is that when the media present a scientific issue, they, wishing to be "balanced" and not understanding the issue, will look around for some one who takes the opposite view, and find someone. So, they give equal air time to someone who represents the consensus view of 99.5% of the world's scientists who have thought about the question, and a random member of the other 0.5%. The result is that the public really has no idea what is a genuine scientific controversy with the world's experts split 50/50 and what is a few oddballs railing against an otherwise solid consensus.

    Global warming is a good example of this. The media makes it seem like a closely fought evenly balanced scientific dispute, which it might have been 20 years ago, rather than an issue that the vast majority of climatologists will agree is settled in general terms (although many important questions remain), which it is today. This is exacerbated when oil companies and their hirelings (like the US federal government) spend their billions to push their viewpoint as well.

    On your technical points. Firstly the "drop in the ocean" thing is just wrong. We are emitting a substantial fraction (something like 30% I think) of all the CO2 released every year. The CO2 levels and temperatures have varied historically, but (a) The consequences were pretty unpleasant (rising sea levels, etc.) and (b) many of the changes happened over millions of years, not decades.

  • Nuclear Bombs (Score:2, Informative)

    by obiquity (658885) on Monday October 11, 2004 @10:22AM (#10492872)
    Scientists are often right at predicting physical outcomes. Who'd have thought that all that "relativity" mumbo jumbo actually worked? Of course it did for atomic theory and nuclear bombs? When people criticize scientific "theories" for being useless because "they are just theories" I can't help but think of atomic theory and the politicization of science. When science is politicized, as it was with Nuclear physics, (and as it is now with Climate), disasters occur.

    OBQT

    Speaking of politicization of science:
    http://scientistsandengineersforchange.org/index.p hp [scientists...change.org]
  • by jbash (784046) on Monday October 11, 2004 @10:24AM (#10492896)
    The carbon dioxide that the vegetation sank into its cells will be liberated by the death of those biomes. And since a lot of this vegetation is burned for fuel, that release will be quicker than it would in the absence of human activity.

    The tundra is releasing huge amounts of methane and carbon dioxide now, from microbial processes. Plus, as the oceans warm up, increasing amounts of methane gas are released as the molecular methane bound in methane clathrate ices is freed by melting. Just to give an idea of how this is changing the atmosphere now, Summer temperatures at the North Pole were 15F warmer than normal -- just a few weeks ago.

    Right now, these newly-active natural sources of GHGs (Greenhouse Gasses) may exceed the amount of industrial GHGs being produced. The process is certainly self-reinforcing, and the feedback loop is now fully established.

    It's no longer a matter of turning off lights and buying hybrid cars. Global Warming will not stop until the natural mechanisms now producing it stop. We should manage the energy sources we have as best we can, but there's nothing we can do about climate any time soon.

    Since the time that the Earth formed a crust, the planet has been bi-stable in terms of climate: either hot or cold, stadial or glacial. The balance has been seriously threatened about half a dozen times, AFAIK: During the early Proterozoic "Iceball Earth" episode 2.3 BYA; during the pre-Cambrian Vendian period, 900-600 MYA, 4 glacial epochs; and during the Permian extinction (251 MYA). Why the climate recovered, I don't know, but it did. But this time, if we keep pushing the atmosphere with increasing amounts of waste heat and heat-trapping GHGs, we could push it beyond its ability to recover at all. No one knows what that point is, but within a few centuries of it starting, the surface of the Earth would be too hot to support life.

    We started the ball rolling, but now it's gotten beyond our control. If we survive this era, I hope our decendants learn not to do what we have done.

  • Re:More on sinks (Score:5, Informative)

    by brsmith4 (567390) <brsmith4 @ g m a i l .com> on Monday October 11, 2004 @10:26AM (#10492906)
    Quoting Lars T. from earlier, Regarding "And we don't emit as much in a year as a good size active volcano can do in a week. But we do emit enough to cause CO2 levels to rise."

    "Scientists have calculated that volcanoes emit between about 130-230 million tonnes (145-255 million tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (Gerlach, 1999, 1992). This estimate includes both subaerial and submarine volcanoes, about in equal amounts. Emissions of CO2 by human activities, including fossil fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring, amount to about 22 billion tonnes per year (24 billion tons). Human activities release more than 150 times the amount of CO2 emitted by volcanoes--the equivalent of nearly 17,000 additional volcanoes like Kilauea (Kilauea emits about 13.2 million tonnes/year)!"


    Hope this helps.
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:5, Informative)

    by bobetov (448774) on Monday October 11, 2004 @10:26AM (#10492909) Homepage
    Um. Factually incorrect. Not sure why you think we don't know what historic CO2 levels are, but you might want to check out:

    http://www.daviesand.com/Choices/Precautionary_P la nning/New_Data/index.html

    which is has a graph of findings from Antarctic ice cores, whose trapped bubbles of gas nicely record CO2 levels back some 500k years. Note the big red spike at the end of the graph, way above previous highs. On a following page:

    http://www.daviesand.com/Choices/Precautionary_P la nning/Closer_Look/

    You can see that in the last 200 years, CO2 levels have shot up 25%.

    Just because this issue gets mainstream press (read: hysteric and unreliable) coverage, doesn't make the issue go away.
  • by fforw (116415) on Monday October 11, 2004 @10:29AM (#10492936) Homepage
    The global warming pundits insist that they must ordinarily be constant. That's fairly unlikely; there appear (in the small amount of data we have collected over the past few decades) to be complicated cycles at work. We do not understand those cycles. Therefore we cannot claim to have altered them.
    a) there are methods to determine CO2 concentration for a lot more than "a few decades" Ice Core drilling [unh.edu] for example provides us with data about the last 200.000 years

    b) Even if it's not as bad as the leading climate scientists tell us, it's no reason to say "hey.. all is fine. let's waste energy and blow as much CO2 into the atmosphere as we can."

    If we don't know for sure it would be a good policy to be cautious.

  • Re:More on sinks (Score:4, Informative)

    by stevelinton (4044) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Monday October 11, 2004 @10:33AM (#10492973) Homepage

    Lots of solid data -- temperatures, CO2 levels, etc. at:

    http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange1/ cu rrent/lectures/kling/carbon_cycle/carbon_cycle_new .html

    Human activity produces net CO2 emission around 8 billion tons of carbon per year. While about 200 billion tons is cycled annually between plants, the atmosphere and the seas, this basically consists of two fairly balanced processes -- into and out of plants and into and out of the sea. If you look at net uptakes or releases by plants and the seas, the human contribution is huge.
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:2, Informative)

    by peawee03 (714493) <mcericksNO@SPAMuiuc.edu> on Monday October 11, 2004 @10:35AM (#10492995)

    Global warming has much more to do than the direct heat you recieve. For example: a body of water will temper the local climate of an area, by absorbing heat during the warmer months and releasing it during the winter months. Now, you get melting arctic ice, that means the largest thermal regulation device in the world (the Oceans) is getting larger, and colder. This affects *everything*.

    I live in the Chicago area, and it's been getting colder there, too, but the temperature affect we're seeing isn't from a massive cooldown, it's from the jet stream that normally swings far north into Canada coming down and sweeping across our home towns. I've heard this is more than a likely effect of global warming.

    Fact of the matter is that, yes, this is most likely another swing to an extreme in the Earth's climate cycle. But the question is that "Does Man have a significant impact upon this natural cycle?" Most research points to "yes"

  • Re:More on sinks (Score:5, Informative)

    by stevelinton (4044) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Monday October 11, 2004 @10:40AM (#10493034) Homepage
    Your data is just wrong for b, d and e. See any of several sites linked from posts in this debate. The global temperature curve may have wandered up 0.1 degree or so in the 1000 years to 1800, but since then it has gone up at least a clear degree (Centigrade!).

    I don't know about c, but Sweden is pretty far North. If warmer seas made it wetter there (ie more snow) glaciers could easily grow. Glaciers on the Alps and in Africa are retreating.

    As for (a) other theories have been pretty closely examined, and the vast majority of scientists who have examined them found that they did not account for the facts.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Monday October 11, 2004 @12:05PM (#10493859) Journal
    His conclusion that the warming of the planet will greatly accelerate the release of carbon from the soil, which in turn, will warm the planet, which in turn will release more carbon from the soil. As you can see, he predicts a nasty spiral.

    One way to drastically drop the carbon level is to seed the southern Pacific ocean with small amounts of iron. This has been shown to cause an algae bloom, drastically increasing the sinking of CO2 from the air. (A major fraction of the algae die without being eaten and sink, taking the carbon with them to the deep ocean where it sits for millenia until the sluggish currents bring it to an upwelling.)

    If we have a runaway we can try using this to turn it around. Attempting to fine-tune the carbon content of the atmosphere with it now risks the opposite spiral and a new ice age:

    - Carbon sink lowers the C02 level and greenhouse effect.
    - CO2 drop produces global cooling.
    - Cooling results in more glaciation on Antarctica and the polar extremes of the other continents.
    - Sequestered water and cooler temperatures reduce rainfall.
    - Reduced rainfall expands deserts.
    - Expanded deserts result in more dust in the atmosphere, including iron and other micronutrients.
    - Some of this dust falls in the ocean, reenforcing and expanding the algae blooms.

    There is currently some question as to whether this, rather than (just) solar cycles or continental drift modifying weather cycles, is the cause of ice ages.
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sir Holo (531007) * on Monday October 11, 2004 @12:22PM (#10494082)

    To boil it down a little:
    In only 46 years, CO2 levels have increased
    19%!

    In each of the last two years, it has gone up by half a percent per year.
  • Re:Me too! (Score:2, Informative)

    by BrokenHalo (565198) on Monday October 11, 2004 @12:51PM (#10494468)
    Any other scientists care to comment?

    Yep. I spent many (many) years in computing as a sysprog, but I got a bit of an awakening when I went back to school to study biotechnology, and found out (almost for the first time) what the scientific method was.

    Computer Science is not science.

    Given that I'm now over 40, I spent enough years working with computers to come to regard the discipline (such as it is) of computer science as being an accretion of currently trendy concepts. I'm sorry if that seems excessively cynical, but that's how I've come to feel about it.

  • Re:More on sinks (Score:4, Informative)

    by rjh (40933) <rjh@sixdemonbag.org> on Monday October 11, 2004 @12:54PM (#10494508)
    U238 is very common in nature; it's pretty much dirt cheap. Is it a finite energy supply? Sure, it's a finite energy supply, but we're talking about centuries of power generation even assuming the most wild energy use imaginable. By the time we need to start worrying about uranium prices--hell, long before we ever need to worry about filling up Yucca Mountain--we'll have the technology to put orbital satellites up, hundreds of kilometers on a side, beaming terawatts of power down to Earth.

    Nobody in their right mind ever proposes anything as a permanent power solution. Nor have many of your alternate sources had much in the way of EPA review. A windmill has no environmental impact--great. What happens when we have acres upon acres upon acres of them, and we're taking enough energy from them to significantly disrupt prevailing wind patterns?

    Tidal harnesses? Great: what happens when we've got so many of them that we're significantly impacting aqualife? Where are the large-scale, long-term studies?

    Solar? Right now, solar is about the most toxic power supply there is. They take huge energy to make, oftentimes fail to generate that much energy over their lives, and the chemicals involved in the lithography are spectacularly toxic. I don't want to see large-scale solar operations, not with our current level of solar tech.

    Nuclear? Nuclear has its problems, yes. On the other hand, we know what those problems are; we know how to mitigate those risks; and we know that nuclear scales extraordinarily well. It's a good solution that's available right now, and that's a hell of a lot better than a perfect solution which won't be available/debugged for another twenty years.
  • by Phronesis (175966) on Monday October 11, 2004 @01:09PM (#10494694)
    The author is thinking of the discrepancy between surface measurements and satellite measurements of the troposphere. Satellites show only half the warming trend that surface measurements do. It's not true that satellites show no warming, but they show a warming of between 0.0 and 0.2 Kelvin between 1980 and 2000, where surface measurements showed a warming of 0.25 to 0.4 K during the same period. Details may be found here [nap.edu].

    There have been attempts to reconcile the two sets of data, mostly having to do with the difficulty of maintaining calibration of the satellites. These tend to produce corrected satellite records that agree with the larger warming measured on the surface, but the jury is still out.

  • Re:More on sinks (Score:4, Informative)

    by Thomas Miconi (85282) on Monday October 11, 2004 @01:44PM (#10495036)
    Trees "inhale" CO2 and "exhale" oxygen.

    Thank you for reminding us about the cycle of photosynthesis, which among other effects gobs up CO2 and water, and produces sugar (for the plant to eat) and dioxygen as a byproduct.

    Now what do you think they do with all this sugar ?

    Now please hit Google and learn about the other part of the energy cycle present in most plants and indeed in most modern living organisms, which is called "respiration" (you may have heard about it): an oxidation process using dioxygen to degrade aforementioned sugars into ATP (nearly universal form of energy storage in living cells) and BLOODY CARBON DIOXIDE !

    This page [wcsscience.com] summarises the main points in an intuitive way.

    At any rate, the production of oxygen by trees is simply tiny. The massive release of oxygen in the atmosphere, arguably one of the most important events in the history of life, was caused by the first photosynthetisers, like cyanobacteria - bacteria that do use photosynthesis to produce sugar (and oxygen), but degrade this sugar through older, less efficient mechanisms such as fermentation. Of course they did not use respiration, because before they appeared there was no oxygen to breathe (duh !)

    Besides causing havoc in the primitive fauna, the so-called "oxygen holocaust" led to the appearance of the much more efficient respiration mechanism. Which in turn allowed for the emergence of much more complex forms of life (Eukaryotes) in a Bacterial world.

    Most experts agree that the average global temperature was higher in the middle-ages than it is now...

    Yeah right. [uea.ac.uk]

    Someone save us from the product of the US education system !

    Thomas-
  • Specious Reasoning (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 11, 2004 @01:48PM (#10495081)
    I'll repost this anonymously from my post above so people don't think I'm karma whoring.

    But this famous graph of theirs is badly flawed methodologically.

    They take the data from here:

    http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/trends/co2/graphics/vo st ok.co2.gif

    Which are extrapolated atmospheric CO2 measurements from the ice core in Antarctica, and then tack on the modern CO2 measurements from the actual atmosphere in a different climate.

    That they don't even mention the caveats of this dangerously speculative merging of incompatible data sets makes it clear that they are more worried about convincing you than finding the truth.

    The two methodologies (trapped CO2 measurement in ice vs CO2 measurement in the atmosphere) cannot be merged like this, even discounting the vast differences in climate between Hawaii and Antarctica.

    For failing to mention glaring caveats that should be obvious to them, though not necessarily the reader who bothers to actually check their source data, I have to dub this as alarmist propaganda which is informative and interesting, but not empirical.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday October 11, 2004 @02:19PM (#10495453) Homepage Journal
    That radioactive poison from petro fuels isn't very funny. I used to live downstream from the biggest radioactive dump ever brought to any justice in America: the ExxonMobil dump along the Mississippi River outside of New Orleans. These petro fuels are dirtier than anyone realizes. But, as a medievalist [mybookcenter.com], I suppose you probably already know all about this particular travesty.
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:2, Informative)

    by horos2c (683085) on Monday October 11, 2004 @02:50PM (#10495802)
    actually, our supply of fissile material is pretty close to infinite (given our current level of energy production), if you include U-238.

    In the US alone, there is at least 10 times as much U-238 as there is coal, and if you count the seas as a source of uranium, there is millions' years of supply.

    source:

    http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/cohe n. html

    horos
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:3, Informative)

    by charlesbakerharris (623282) on Monday October 11, 2004 @02:57PM (#10495876)
    No, that's incorrect. The satellites measure temperature, which is based strictly on the wavelengths of the emitted radiation from the surface. That doesn't change if you put a bunch of CO2 in the way - it just reduces the number of photons that get back to the satellite. They're not measuring the *amount* of "radiated energy", which is what you based your statement on. The lack of temperature change is still significant. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your conclusions - global warming may still very well be a problem - but it will take a good deal more to counter the argument about the temperature remaining flat than what you mentioned.
  • by CaptainAvatar (113689) on Monday October 11, 2004 @09:28PM (#10499393)
    Yep, and judging by the resume [michaelchaney.com] on his website, he ain't. At his last university he studied "Computer Science, General Studies, Basketball" (!). Saying he's an "informed scientist" is just a rhetorical device - ie anyone who disagrees with him is just an ill-informed non-scientist, that's all.
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:3, Informative)

    by toddestan (632714) on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @12:12AM (#10500430)
    Solar? Right now, solar is about the most toxic power supply there is. They take huge energy to make, oftentimes fail to generate that much energy over their lives, and the chemicals involved in the lithography are spectacularly toxic. I don't want to see large-scale solar operations, not with our current level of solar tech.

    Depends on what kind of solar you are talking about. Most people think of the solar cells that are found on calculators - those are toxic and usually produce less energy than it takes to make them. The other kind of solar - using mirrors to focus sunlight to heat water - is very clean, cheap, and safe, though pretty unreliable.
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @12:55AM (#10500647)
    People don't build large solar energy plants based on photovoltaic cells. They use mirrors to focus the energy onto a liquid such as an oil and then use the heated liquid to produce electricity. No heavy metals necessary.

    http://www.eere.energy.gov/RE/solar_concentratin g. html
  • Re:More on sinks (Score:2, Informative)

    by DerWulf (782458) on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @08:53AM (#10502392)
    1) correlation != causation. It could just as well be the other way around: higher temperature causes higher CO2 levels. Or it could be an unkown third factor that affects temperature and CO2 in the same way.

    2) The diagram show important things though.
    - the current temperature is not outside any bounds established by history
    - increase in CO2 levels are not only/always caused by humans
    - in history there has been a cycle of warm periods and ice ages

An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it. -- James Michener, "Space"

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